Bees and Beekeeping - Cheshire, 1888

Page 176

The most puzzling of all variations remains to be noticed, for no observer has discovered even the key to the gauging of the dimensions of the cell by the wax worker. It cannot be put in evidence that the size of her body or head, or reach of her jaws, determines it, for, under certain conditions which are perfectly uniform, she discards the 1/5in. diameter, and starts constructing cells 1/4 of an inch between the parallel sides, and these are used for the storing of honey or the raising of drones, and so are commonly called drone cells. The statement, many times made, that twenty-five and sixteen of these respectively cover a square inch is erroneous, as the outline is not square, the correct numbers being as below:
-Diameter.Length.No. on Sq. In.
on One Side
of Comb.
No. on Sq. Ft.
on One Side
of Comb.
No. on Sq. Ft.
on Both Sides
of Comb.
Worker cell . .
Drone cell . .
1/5 in.
1/4 in.
15/32 in.
9/16 in.
28 13/15
18 178/375
Pages 317-318

Creatures grow by transfusion of material in their living bodies, and the more solidity their tissues have, the more slowly does this transfusion occur. Some flesh-flies, in the earlier part of their larval state, will increase in weight two or three hundred times in twentyfour hours - a rate of development absolutely forbidden, by physiological and chemical laws, to creatures of larger proportions; for, other things being equal, as the size increases the rate of development must decrease. The inconceivably minute monad, weighing a fraction of a billionth of a grain, by absorbing nutrition doubles its weight and divides every four minutes. If food abound, and the fluid surrounding the creature be free of enemies and not circumscribed, it, in the course of three or four hours may produce in its descendants an amount of living, moving material exceeding the weight of the largest elephant; while the latter animal, with its digestive and assimilative powers stimulated to the uttermost, could only, in the same time, add a few ounces to the weight of its body.

The economics of the question must not be overlooked. In gathering from clover, it has been shown that about 1/350th grain is secured at each visit. Let us imagine that our bee is enlarged twice, by which its weight has grown eight-fold. As it flies, carrying its large body from clover-bloom to clover-bloom, an amount of wear and tear is involved which is eight times as great as that accompanying similar movements in the normal bee. This wear and tear is replaced by food - of course, proportionately augmented, and which has to be deducted from the 1/350th grain secured. The net increase to the stock is, therefore, less at each visit, in the case of the larger bee, than in that of the normal one. The former, however, has the advantage of being able to decrease its return visits to the hive to unload, because its honey-sac is larger; but this is the only gain, and it is much more than counter-balanced by the fact that, with normal bees, eight independent gatherers would be at work simultaneously for only the same wear and tear that would permit of the efforts of one if the bulk were increased as supposed. Selection has gone on for ages regulating the proportions of the wondrous insect between those extremes in which the loss by excessively frequent returns to the colony, and the loss through excessive bodily weight, balance each other, and has thus given us a bee whose size yields the best possible results.

The botanical reason for desiring no alteration was expounded in Vol. 1. Flowers and bees have been constantly interacting. The build of every floret is adapted to that of its fertiliser, and, could we suddenly increase the dimensions of our hive bees, we should throw them out of harmony with the floral world around them, decrease their utility, by reducing the number of plants they could fertilise, and diminish equally their value as honey-gatherers. Mechanics, physiology, economics, and botany alike, show any craving after mere size to be an ill-considered and unscientific fancy, for which it would be even difficult to find an excuse.